Senate president: Louisiana veto override session likely

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Courtesy: Louisiana State Legislature

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Momentum is building for Louisiana lawmakers to hold an historic veto override session, with Senate President Page Cortez announcing Wednesday that senators are likely to support the effort to try to overturn Gov. John Bel Edwards’ bill rejections.

Cortez said Edwards’ spurning of a bill banning transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams of their identified gender appeared to have spurred enough backing among senators for the mid-July veto session. Already, House Republicans had indicated they have the support to hold the gathering, and GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder wants the session.

“The grassroots swell of public opinion has been overwhelming, and so as I speak to the individual senators, they want to be able to go on the record saying they not only voted to support this (bill) during session, but they believe it’s that important to go back in and be on the record with an override vote,” Cortez said in an interview with The Associated Press.

If lawmakers return to the state Capitol, it would be Louisiana’s first veto session under the modern constitution adopted in 1974. But it remains unclear if the House and Senate will have the two-thirds votes required to override the Democratic governor’s veto on the transgender sports ban or any other bill he’s jettisoned from the recently ended regular session.

Legislators say they’ve been inundated with emails and phone calls in support of the vetoed bill by Republican Sen. Beth Mizell, of Franklinton. The state Republican Party, the Christian conservative organization Louisiana Family Forum and others are pushing lawmakers to hold the session.

Edwards announced last week he vetoed Mizell’s bill, but he hasn’t turned in the official veto message to the Legislature. Cortez said if the governor somehow changed his mind on that measure, he could possibly avoid the session. But Edwards has offered no indication he intends to do so — calling the legislation discriminatory and a threat to Louisiana’s ability to attract big events.

Under Louisiana’s constitution, a veto session is automatically scheduled when a governor jettisons legislation. However, a majority vote of either the House or Senate can scrap the gathering through a written ballot. The cancelation of the session usually is a foregone conclusion.

That doesn’t appear likely to be the case this year — though the ballots determining whether a veto session will be held haven’t gone out and aren’t due until July 15. If a veto override session is held this year, it will begin July 20 and could last through July 24.

Beyond the transgender sports ban veto, some Republicans are pushing a veto session because Edwards rejected a measure that would allow people 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. But that’s not the driving force for the override session.

Supporters of the transgender sports ban, which Mizell called the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” said they were trying to protect female athletes from unfair competition. They said transgender athletes have an automatic, built-in advantage in competitions against other females.

Edwards described the measure as enshrining discrimination in state law and making life more difficult for vulnerable children. He said the bill “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana.” The Louisiana High School Athletic Association already has enacted the equivalent of a prohibition on transgender athletes participating on high school sports teams.

If lawmakers hold the historic session as expected, their ability to overturn Edwards’ veto remains uncertain.

Mizell’s bill passed with bipartisan veto-proof margins, but it’s unclear if Republicans could get the support needed from independents or Democrats to override Edwards’ veto. If GOP lawmakers vote as a bloc, they are two votes short of the two-thirds vote needed in the House.

The Louisiana Legislature has overturned only two vetoes in modern history. Both of those 1990s-era override votes were taken while lawmakers were still in regular session, not in a special veto session.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

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